From Hull to Hamburg: The Corona Diaries

Riccardo Vitale compares his experience living in Germany during Covid-19, and the governmental response, to that of the British government.

The calls I have received from home to my current residence in Hamburg over the past few months have been laced with confusion, exhaustion, and anger. A languid footnote to facetime sessions has been 'You are better off over there than here', said with a comedic sadness that is typical of the lampooning stasis into which British society has descended. My Mother has not left the house since the beginning of lockdown such is her unwavering distrust in the erratic messages from the government. It perhaps typifies the hollow core of modern British identity that whilst our ruling political elite relish and distract with grandiose notions of empire and stern defence of colonial anthems, the common message I have received from speaking to people is one of bewildered shame in an establishment that has shattered any last semblance of connection with its populace.

This moth ball ridden nostalgia, which seems to be rolled out by our neurotic leadership whenever any prospect of progressive debate is tabled; a rustic weapon summoned in dialogues where anything to the left of Ronald Regan is deemed radical and dangerous, stands in stark contrast to the political and cultural atmosphere I have experienced living in Germany. Whilst I have gladly embraced its progressive tolerance, it has also brought the realisation of how far decades of free wheeling neoliberal orthodoxy has pushed the belief in British life to a lonely, depressing precipice. Another fact that adds to this jarring distinction is that the largest party in the German Parliament is the Christian Democratic Unionists, hardly a neo-Marxist enterprise. Whilst growing up in East Yorkshire, I always thought that underfunded services and facilities were a natural consequence of coming from an isolated slice of England, and the rare few that had access to excellent schools, healthcare, and culture were just exceptionally lucky. Since calling Germany my home three years ago, I have realised that it is possible for everyone to have to access to the fully funded fruits of public life, that it is not, and should never be too much to ask for. I have welcomed a society based on cohesive principles that are not totally thrown away to the looming spectres of corporate power; a land that refuses to treat it's public services as mere bargain ornaments in an endless closing down sale.     

As opposed to the chaotic response to the Corona pandemic in the UK, the message here in Hamburg was always clear, concise, and considered. At every point, ranging from lockdown to the current, more relaxed situation where the gleaming fixtures of Hamburgs nightlife are starting to reconvene, every breaking nuance of an unknown crisis was explained with calm, thoughtful precision. I believe a reason for this difference is that the robust societal framework needed to handle crises' have already long been put in place in countries such as Germany, whereas the ability to handle sudden fissures in public health in the UK has been rendered helpless through years of relentless cuts, stripping essential services to the bone. When viewed from this perspective, it is clear that Corona is not the cause of the current malaise that has engulfed Britain, it is merely the latest straw that has ruthlessly exposed a stuttering and careless governmental approach that for decades has not been fit for purpose.

The greatest tragedy of individualist ideologies is that whilst they work purely to serve the interests of those who concoct them, their mantras are subtly distilled among their targets. The antiquated Thatcherite legacy's of personal responsibility coupled with rampant self interest have left a seething rupture in the collective imagination, of what constitutes the boundaries of possibility for life in a modern nation state. The tactic is quite clear: if you can convince people to expect nothing, then they won't fight for anything. In his book 'The Enigma Of Capital', David Harvey states 'The impact on political subjectivity have been huge. This is a world in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism and financial opportunism has become the template for human personality socialisation'. This notion of personality being moulded by economic and political environments is very pertinent when comparing experiences within different cultures.  It suggests that the messages that are funnelled down have a dramatic effect on the individuals consciousness of their place in a given society. Whilst this can be used to elevate the individual into an engaged and valued member of a community, it can also be used to the opposite effect, reducing the subject to a faceless unit of production and consumption in a system that coldly puts profit above potential. This can be plainly seen in the fact that basic rights such as free higher education in mainland Europe are seen as normal expectations, whilst in Britain almost every pillar of public life has been gradually turned into a marketised dead end, our young people being the least satisfied with life in Europe. A radical renewal of the relationship between British politics and the people it exists to serve is needed to ensure fabricated impossibilities become expectations, and that those expectations are enshrined in reality.    

Riccardo is an MA Broadcast Journalism graduate who lives in Hamburg, Germany. Currently trying to navigate the maddening labyrinth of the German language. 

He tweets at @riccardovitale5 and you can find more of his work at:

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